This innovative interactive toy can provide zoos and aquariums with a useful tool for tracking the health of marine (and potentially other) mammals. Since the natural tendency of many mammals is to behave no differently when they are feeling unwell to deceive predators, it’s difficult for animal care staff to know when there is a problem since current approaches consist of subjective observation, surface-level examinations, and infrequent full check-ups.
This computer-instrumented toy developed by Georgia Tech collects data and quantifies animal behaviors as they play with it to bring attention to changes in the animal’s behavior that would not otherwise be visible to animal care staff. The technology comprises an outer shell that houses food to entice the animal as well as a waterproof electronics box for a circuit board and sensors for tracking animal behaviors. It also includes an external digital dashboard. The result is a simple, objective, and data-driven tool that derives actionable health insights for animals that may otherwise not receive the care they need.
- Objective health data: Most existing marine mammal health tracking approaches solely consist of subjective observation. This innovation is designed to provide accurate and objective data-driven information to better monitor animal health.
- Quicker response to problems: This computer-instrumented toy can build a baseline of quantified behavior, enabling animal care staff to see behavioral anomalies that are indicative of health issues and potentially treat the issue more quickly.
- Simple dashboard interface: In a single glance, the dashboard shows all information a caregiver might need about a given animal—including whether a health issue may be present.
- Versatile design: The design can be modified for use with other types of animals. Performing physical exams on some animals can be risky, time-consuming, difficult, and expensive for handlers. For example, sea otters have fur so dense that their skin cannot easily be inspected for lesions or rashes.
This technology has applications in animal conservation efforts, specifically to ensure the wellbeing of marine and other animals in captivity in zoos and aquariums.